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Senior Al Qaeda Figure in Custody Today in Morocco

Aired June 19, 2002 - 11:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: A senior al Qaeda figure is in custody today in Morocco and is facing interrogators there. Our National Security Correspondent, David Ensor, joins us now from Washington. He has been tracking this story for us this morning -- hello, David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon.

Well, as you say, the close cooperation with foreign intelligence services and law enforcement is yielding some dividends in the number of arrests of key al Qaeda figures. And the one you mentioned is a very important one, indeed.

U.S. officials confirming that Saudi-born al Qaeda operative Abu Zubair al-Haili is in Moroccan hands. Officials saying he could provide highly valuable information. His nickname is "The Bear," and that is because he is said to weigh over 300 pounds.

He was a key deputy of Abu Zubaydah, the al Qaeda operations chief who is in U.S. hands. And he may be able to provide a wealth of knowledge, including the locations of some terrorist cells. U.S. officials believe information from him might be able to thwart future terrorist attacks.

Specifically, Abu Zubair, they say, helped some al Qaeda personnel after the Tora Bora fight move into different countries after the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He may know, for example, the false names and identities that some of them have assumed, which, of course, would be very useful in tracking them down.

Officials note that about 2,400 people have been detained worldwide since September 11th on suspicion of association with, or knowledge about, al Qaeda. Some of them are in the hands of unlikely allies. For example, we learned yesterday that in a Syrian jail is Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a German citizen of Syrian origin who is suspected of possibly recruiting the hijackers' leader, Mohammed Atta, while both were living in Hamburg, Germany.

Zammar is another very noticeable individual. He's also said to weigh about 300 pounds. Then, of course, there is Abu Zubaydah himself. He's being held in an undisclosed country by the U.S. He's under interrogation. Not always cooperative, officials say, but still providing some valuable leads. Unfortunately, though, U.S. officials say the majority of the top leaders of al Qaeda, from Osama bin Laden on down, remain at large. And so there's a good deal of concern that additional terrorist attacks could occur at any time, Leon.

HARRIS: That's very troubling. Very sobering as well. David Ensor, thank you very much.

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